Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Instability: Deal With It, or Address It?

One of the facts of life for many high-poverty schools and districts is constant flux and turnover among district leaders, school leaders, teachers, families, and students.  A typical high-poverty school, for example, sees about 20-25% of its teachers leave each and every year (and that's just at a typical school: imagine what happens at the thousands of atypical schools out there).

I got to thinking about this while listening to a presentation last month on the failure of a curricular reform.  The research that was being presented identified this turnover as the main reason for said failure.  And I buy that explanation: almost every teacher they trained left before the new curriculum was fully established (as did the Superintendent, and the new one wanted to push a different curriculum).

But the larger question, to me, is what to do about this instability and turnover.  The presentation concluded with the argument that future reforms should take this instability into account and essentially be turnover-proof.  That's certainly a pragmatic approach.  But it always makes me squirm when people propose what are essentially dumbed-down reforms for the most troubled schools while others get to do the real thing.

So I had a different thought: why not attack that instability directly?  If a new curriculum can't be successfully implemented because teachers, principals, and district leaders are constantly in flux, why not try to stabilize those three?  For example, a group of teachers and administrators at a school are given a bonus if they stay in place for, say, 5 years.  And the district could lock-in the new curriculum for the same period of time so that it won't change even if the district's leadership does.

Maybe that would be too difficult to do on a large scale, but somebody could certainly try it on a smaller one -- a single charter school might be a good place to start.  After all, charters were started to serve as incubators and laboratories for ideas that traditional public schools hesitate to try.

No comments: